There were a slew of releases in April, from big names like Anderson Paak and Schoolboy Q to up-and-comers like Kevin Abstract, Supa BWE, Pivot Gang and Rico Nasty, who all dropped projects that will help further their cause and expand their already burgeoning fanbases. Hip-hop’s bold dynamism is on display with this list. These ten acts released projects that span the gamut of sonic possibilty, from the genre-fusing of Anderson Paak, Supa BWE and Abdu Ali to Schoolboy Q and Rico Nasty’s unabashed turn up vibes, and finally, the varied introspection and storytelling of Kevin Abstract and Your Old Droog:
Anderson Paak, Ventura
Anderson Paak’s Ventura is a testament to coming back strong. After some mixed reaction to his Dr. Dre-backed Oxnard album, Paak double-backed months later with Ventura a lush, thoughtful companion project that’s been more widely received for good reason. If you know Paak, you know that Ventura isn’t a purely bars and beats album like some of the list’s other selections, but the rap highs of the eclectic artist’s project will be some of the year’s brightest moments.
He got Andre 3000 in grown man mode on the impeccable “Come Home,” J. Cole longing to reconnect with an old flame on “Trippy”, and even has Pusha T reflecting on the split from his brother No Malice on the trap and instrumentation-fusing “Brother’s Keeper.” The album’s smooth production and Paak’s sharp songwriting (“If Jesus would’ve had a better lawyer would he have to see the cross?” on “Brother’s Keeper”) was an ideal canvas for a who’s who of the rap game to costar with Paak.
Schoolboy Q, CrasH Talk
After having fans waiting for over since his last album, Schoolboy Q came back with CrasH Talk, an album that placates his fanbase with a little bit of everything. There’s the turn-up fodder like single “Numb Numb Juice,” “5200,” and the Travis Scott-featuring “Chopstix.” He delves into the effects of different highs on “Floating” and explores his closest foray to sociopolitical commentary on “Black Folk,” where the generally debaucherous MC reflects on overcoming adversity and why so many of his brethren of color can’t do the same.
The one knock on the album is that he could have given a little bit more of him — in multiple manners. He told Hot 97 about how he took verses off multiple tracks, and several of the guest appearances don’t justify him not simply doing another verse. The album shines the best when Schoolboy’s considerable charisma takes center stage on solo songs like “Crash,” where he leans into his role as a young OG with game for the youth and the summation that he “sold my soul to my feelings.” The transaction is apparently paying off, as CrasH Talk is a solid offering.
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, Anger Management
Another month, another fire Kenny Beats-produced album. After releasing Bad Influence in February with Q Da Fool, Kenny is back with another DMV artist in fan-favorite Rico Nasty. Rico’s followup is another headrush of a project that shows why she’s quickly growing a cult fanbase. She sticks to her formula for the bulk of the nine-track project, rhyming with a myriad of flows and her typically emphatic delivery. Highlights include the raunchy “Big Titties” with Baauer and Earthgang, the ruckus “Cold,” where she rages over an industrial dystopia of percussion that Kenny laid for her.
Kevin Abstract, Arizona Baby
Kevin Abstract’s Arizona Baby project was brilliantly rolled out in three parts, presumably because the Brockhampton artist wanted his coming-of-age project to be fully digested. The innovative strategy (and Wednesday release) worked, as both the Arizona Baby and Ghettobaby EPs work both in their own right and as pieces of the full, introspective project. The autobiographical album tackles themes like depression, personal liberation, and learning self-love in a bigoted environment like his native Corpus Christi, Texas.
He uses his life as the canvas for most of the densely-produced project which he co-produced with other Brockhampton members. “Use Me” explores the hypocritical homophobia of Christianity he’s experienced. “Mississippi” is a portrait of dysfunction and self-medication, where he poignantly scribes, “you gon’ find out that I’m not myself / in this winehouse, all my dawgs need some help.” Thankfully for Kevin, he’s able to reckon with the trauma and he’s faced through powerful art such as Arizona Baby.
03 Greedo & DJ Mustard, Still Summer In The Projects
Nothing is going to stop the prolific 03 Greedo from dropping music. He may currently be incarcerated on a sentence that could be ending much sooner than initially thought, but he’s feeding the streets regardless of his physical status. His latest project is a collaboration with DJ Mustard, where the superproducer affirms that his synergy with LA gangsta rappers doesn’t stop with YG. The project runs the gamut of LA vibes, from the syrupy “Twisting The Lens” and pleasantly menacing “Bet I Walk” to the smooth “Traphouse,” where Rob Vicious of Shoreline Mafia rhymes, “I can’t even trust you, gotta f*ck you with my MAC out.”
Such paranoia is par for the course on a Greedo project, as are unforgettable vocal melodies and the recollections of “Visions,” the album closer. The confessional track is a bittersweet sendoff, as it demonstrates the immense talent, but leaves the listener wondering when he’ll be free to display it again.
Supa BWE, Just Say Thank You
Even if you’re not as familiar with Supa BWE, you are through the sphere of the young, genre-bending artists who’ve “borrowed” his flows and melodies over the past couple years. But the Chicago artist is making a claim for his own glo up with the slyly-titled Just Say Thank You. The seven-track EP is a varied display of Supa’s musical gifts, from the Chance The Rapper-featuring “Rememory” to the fury of “PROBLEM/FUEL” and despondency on “I Hate You.” Supa BWE is no mere upcoming artist, he’s the refined progenitor of a lot of young artist’s styles and Just Say Thank You will help him get his due in 2019.
Pivot Gang, You Can’t Sit With Us
Saba kicked his foot in the door of the rap game with brilliant Care For Me, and now he’s making way for his team with on You Can’t Sit With Us, the debut studio album from the Chicago-based Pivot Gang. The 13-track album is an introduction to the lesser-known collective members like Saba’s brother Joseph Chilliams, their cousin John Walt and artists like MFn Melo, daedaePIVOT, Daoud, Frsh Waters, and SqueakPIVOT. There’s no grand mission statement to the project besides the one that many listeners will make after finishing: Damn, these boys can rap. The free-flowing project shows Pivot Gang engaged in a range of lyrical exercises, having fun with newfound fame and inviting some known names to the party such as Smino on “Bad Boys,” Jean Deaux on “Edward Scissorhands,” and Mick Jenkins on “No Vest.”
Erick Sermon, Vernia
Hip-hop icon Erick Sermon’s Vernia demonstrates that genius knows no age in hip-hop. He got with a who’s who of spitters from yesterday and today on the 13-track album, which shows that his considerable, arguably underrated production prowess is still in full effect. The album is dominated by posse cuts, with a bevy of carefully curated collaborations such as the funky “That Girl” with Big Krit and Ricco Barrino, the soulful “Tha Game” with AZ and Styles P and “My Style,” where N.O.R.E. and Raekwon drop bars over the green-eyed bandit’s slick chops. Sermon sprinkles his own verses throughout the album but was wise to enlist the help of a slew of talented lyricists to take most of the load.
Your Old Droog, It Wasn’t Even Close
Your Old Droog dropped off It Wasn’t Even Close as a surprise album a couple of weeks ago. Droog’s fourth album shows him locked in lyrically, making no bones about his desire to master a brand of traditionalist rap that makes listeners nostalgic for the ‘90s golden era and five mic The Source reviews. He does just that on tracks like “The Cheese/Under The Train (Transporting),” where he artfully serves cheese references while recalling his coming of age in Brooklyn. Droog’s beat selection keeps the album fresh, with soulful, searing tracks like “RST” featuring DOOM and Mach Hommy and “Chasing Ghosts,” a track that channels the vibe of a mystery TV show theme.
Abdu Mongo Ali, FIYAH
Baltimore artist Abdu Ali has said that they wanted their FIYAH album to “embrace all of the facets of my identity but not let those paradigms build chains around my artistic vision.” It’s an incisive perspective that they were able to execute on the versatile album. Ali fused elements of electronic, hip-hop, free jazz and soul into surging, such as the apprehensive “Spiraling,” the defiant “No, I Ain’t Doin That,” and “Chastity,” where Ali surmises “way back I wanted to be clean, but now I see being dirty is the way to be,” especially in a judgemental society looking for a way to label people dirty anyway. Ali’s latest effort is a strong example of artistry that’s manifested through an exploration of identity, but not propped up by it.